Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Arpeggione Sonata D821 (1824) [21:41]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Kinderszenen Op 15 (1838) [19:04]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Piano Sonata in A Minor D784 (1823) [21:05]
HŚvard Gimse (piano), Henning Kraggerud (viola)
rec. Sofienberg Church, Oslo, Norway, 29 April-3 May 2008
NAIM NAIMCD104 [61:50]

Schubertís Arpeggione Sonata was written for the instrument of the same name and piano. The arpeggione was famous in Schubertís day and was a cross between a cello and a guitar. It is now defunct but the sonata continues to be played with the cello or viola standing in for the original instrument. Benjamin Britten and Rostropovich made a glorious recording (Decca 4758239) in July 1968 which has never been surpassed and sets a very high benchmark. There have also been some excellent more modern versions such as that by Queyras and Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi 901930). I am afraid that this recording, while it contains some interesting features and nice playing, is not in the same league as the very best.

I thought both players could have brought more to the lyrical and expressive elements of the first movement. The second subject seemed rushed and agitated with both players highlighting the folk elements of the music at the expense of the poetry. The music did not seem to sing and breathe as naturally as it should do. Both players added additional ornaments throughout the piece - some worked well but others seemed to detract from the natural flow particularly in the outer movements. The second movement Adagio was nicely played although I found the whole thing slightly bland and lacking the searing expressive and lyrical power which some other players bring to the table. The opening of the last movement was rather jerky and over-emphatic and the tempi generally rather erratic. Again both players seemed to sacrifice the lyrical and expressive aspects to the folk elements which detracted from the overall performance.

Gimseís Kinderszenen was the best part of the disc. He characterised some of these miniatures very nicely. He brought fine tonal qualities and nicely judged rubato to the first piece and to the central Traumerei. The playful and whimsical elements were brought well to the fore both in the curious story and the knight of the hobbyhorse. Other pieces in the set were less successful: Blind Manís Buff was too erratic for my taste and both An Important Event and Frightening were overly mannered. The last two pieces were nicely played although by contrast with Lupu and others Gimse did not really capture their poetic imagination.

Schubertís piano sonatas were relatively unknown until the twentieth century - Rachmaninov reputedly asked if Schubert had composed any piano sonatas - until they were rescued by Artur Schnabel and Edwin Fischer. Since then many great pianists have recorded them including Richter, Lupu, Schiff and Uchida. Iím afraid that Gimseís recording of the A minor sonata is not in the front rank. I came away feeling rather underwhelmed and uninspired by this recording.

The first movement lacks musical coherence and the tone was too brash and harsh in some of the louder sections. The Andante flowed nicely and there was fine lyrical playing. Sadly though Gimse failed to get to the emotional core of the movement. The final Allegro foreshadows the finale of Schubertís magnificent C minor sonata and is full of dark shadows and foreboding. Gimse tried to highlight these elements but the opening was at times erratic and sounded more like a study than a poetic masterpiece.

Both Gimse and Kraggerud are clearly fine players but they both may need to look to other repertoire to showcase their considerable talents.

Robert Beattie

Gimse and Kraggerud are clearly fine players but they both may need to look to other repertoire to showcase their considerable talents.